May 1, 2017

MAKE YOUR OWN FLY-THRU BIRD FEEDERS

By Dorothy Ainsworth

The joy of feeding birds is one of those things you just can't put a price on. For bird lovers like me it's worth every penny we choose to spend on putting up feeders and buying seed.

Watching the birds eat from one's own generously-stocked platforms tickles the senses in every way. It's like seeing an old time musical on a stage with ever-changing colorful costumes, amazing songs, tap dancing feet, happy beaks, and the flutterings and skilled maneuverings of nature's own choreography. The little minstrels use the trees and bushes close-by as a staging area before flitting out for their turn on the stage. All this entertainment is free to view from your window on any given day, and the show goes on from dawn to dusk.

Hearing the Meadowlark's exquisitely lyrical solo on a beautiful spring morning is the only thanks we ever need——not to mention the other delightful flute and violin sounds in the orchestra: trills and tremolos, warbles, squeaks and squawks, clicks, and raspy caws. All the different tweets blend together in perfect harmony.

If you are the nurturing type, it feels good to the heart and soul to help the hungry little critters get through a cold winter by creating a bird haven for them with the protection of ROOFED feeders.

Replenishing their fare with a variety of wild birdseed and sunflower seeds, and keeping their water fresh to the brim, becomes part of a daily routine——year round. In the summer I add bird baths to their "spa" resort, but in the winter those turn into skating rinks, so I put out fresh water every day.

For the past 35 years I've documented 60 species of birds on my property here in southern Oregon——and still counting. I've been tossing out birdseed, crumbs, granola, and burnt toast shamefully slung out the window like a Frisbee, but last fall I got serious about feeding my feathered friends in a manner they could count on.

I set out to build and install SEVEN fly-through type bird feeders within sight and sound of the various houses sprinkled about on my 10 acres. For $39.00 online I sent for one simple fly-through design to use as a template, and duplicated six more out of cedar from the local lumber yard, using the assembly line method.

They measure 26"x18" and 16" high, but a person could make them any size desired. The one I ordered had just one runner in the center of the floor to fasten to the post, but I added 2 extra 1"x4" runners on the bottom of each feeder for floor stability and support. (Google: Backyard Boys Woodworking at Mills Fleet Farm to see the sample.)

When they were all finished, I sprayed them with SuperDeck's "duckback" water-borne non-toxic stain, using a small garden sprayer and a paint brush. Water-based stain is great stuff and clean-up is a breeze. (The sun-bleached roofs can be re-sprayed in place every summer.)

I used a sheet of black anodized aluminum with tiny holes in it for the floors, but a cheaper solution would be heavy-duty metal screening, or perforated plastic. Cost of the other six feeders were about half-price at $20 each——maybe not worth the extra trouble for people with money to spare——but for me it was a fun project and I saved $120.

I bought seven pressure-treated 4"x4"x8' posts for $10/ea. and seven concrete piers with 4"x4" brackets cast in the tops for $9/ea. Then I dug 12"x12" x 12"-deep holes and set and leveled the piers and tamped the clay soil firmly around them so only the brackets were sticking out of the ground. It wouldn't hurt to set the piers in concrete if your soil is light and sandy.

I cut off the eight-foot 4"x4" posts to 6.5 feet so I could reach the feeders to fill, and installed two horizontal bird-feeder supports on the top end of each post. I cut 7 pairs of them from 2"x6" DF lumber and screwed them onto the posts parallel to each other but flanking each side of each post. I made sure the tops were level so the feeders would sit flat.

Note: Mailboxes are sometimes attached to posts using this method.

Next I screwed the 4"x4"s (with the supports firmly attached) into the pier brackets, making sure each post was plumb from every direction (straight up and down). Then I screwed the feeders on and viola!, the job was done. I used fairly long screws in the brackets to help the posts hang on tight if they ever sway a little in a strong wind.

The fun part was filling each feeder tray with birdseed and other treats (apples and berries) and waiting impatiently for the customers to come to the smorgasbird feast. It didn't take long. Once the first little cutie was brave enough to check it out and make a commotion, they all came flying in. I chose fly-through feeders so they could dine and dash with a beak-full if they needed to, and never feel trapped.

Birds stick around in great numbers if there's a reliable source of food, but they leave if it's just an occasional and dubious treat they might happen upon (like that burnt toast). Their metabolism is so fast they have to eat constantly to survive. I take great care to be consistent and not disappoint them.

I found that they like the feeders near trees or bushes they can escape into in an instant. It's a dangerous world out there for tiny creatures, and they are hyper-vigilant. The one bird feeder I put out in the open attracts the fewest birds. I also recommend attaching a sheet metal or plastic collar 2-feet above the base of the post to foil cats and squirrels.

The best buy I've found for sunflower seeds in bulk is Walmart: 40-pound bags of Pennington brand for $18.00. In the winter when food is scarce for birds, I go through a bag a week, but cut down a little in spring, summer, and fall when insects and worms are out in full force.

I now have mother birds rearing their babies in nests all over the property. This is their HOME, and I'm so happy to share it! Just yesterday I discovered a mother Blue Jay flitting to and fro feeding her family of four tiny bald hatchlings. Could anything be more precious? I don't think so.

It all begins with putting out feeders and welcoming all to partake. Mother Nature does the rest.